Networking is probably one of the toughest and most important aspects of the job search..not to mention our careers and overall professional development. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most hated, misunderstood and, consequently, poorly practiced areas in our careers, too, which is probably why many of us dread networking altogether. Still, like it or not, we simply must do it. It’s too difficult to land a job, an internship, or a new client today without networking.

However, there is good networking and bad networking. In fact, today you’ll read many articles that declare networking passe, out-of-date, or yesterday’s news, because networking often seems artificial and unsophisticated by today’s more savvy professionals. This is because of some of the images we all have of networking – where we call up someone we’ve never met to ask them for an informational interview or for coffee, for instance – seem forced and artificial.

Worse, networking gets a bad rap because people don’t respect the time and effort of the person on the other end. Here’s one scenario: A sales rep contacts an alumna from his business school and speaks to her about her company, a place where he’d really like to build relationships and, ultimately, make a sale. The alumna spends 20 minutes of her time over the phone with the sales rep, and tells him that, unfortunately, they don’t have a need for the particular product at this particular time. The sales rep, dejected, hangs up, and eventually moves on to the next prospect. In the meantime, he’s never sent her so much as a thank you note. That’s impolite, and gives all of us networkers a bad rap.

Networking is also uncomfortable because we’re approaching people we often don’t know very well and asking them for something without necessarily giving something in return. We think, “What could I possibly offer Mr. Manager at Company X? I’m just a poor business school student/unemployed job-seeker/desperate sales rep. No matter how lowly on the totem pole you may feel you reside, you always, always have something to offer in exchange. Let’s say you’re a student from China – consider offering some unique news or information about how business is done in your country. Provide a link to an article of interest. Offer your own analysis of the company’s recent acquisition. You’re so smart, you’ll think of something to provide, and the sooner you start to view networking as a two-way road, the easier it will start to feel.

Starting now, instead of networking, think of relationship-building – and your new goal is to have as many conversations with as many people as possible. That’s it. Unlike some networking, which ends once you’ve gotten what you want from the relationship (i.e., a job), having conversations with as many people as possible will help you build real, genuine relationships. Think about it: If you were working at a company, would you automatically help someone get a job there that you hardly knew?

By building relationships with people, you help them get to know you and your unique qualities, and you get to know them. By understanding them in a better way, you’ll learn more about their company, their job, and – who knows – you may also learn that you actually don’t want a job with that company, after all.

When you build relationships to last, rather than one-off networking calls or meetings, you’ll have a much greater chance of someone actually passing your resume along to the right people and really going to bat for you than you might have otherwise. And, quite frankly, by demonstrating your interest in someone else for the long haul, you also demonstrate that you’re a nice person – something that goes a long way in today’s world.

Author's Bio: 

Elizabeth Freedman is an expert in career and workplace issues. She is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student’s Job-Seeking Bible, and was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Elizabeth runs a Boston-based career-development and coaching firm; clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Reuters and The Gillette Company. To bring Elizabeth to your next association event or workplace meeting, please visit